Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Phoenix Rock and Roll Marathon: The 4.8 miles before the Marathon

Before the 50 km ultramarathon, participants could go to the Arizona Mineral & Mine Museum to stay warm.

In this building, they also had coffee and cytomax for the runners, which I partook in.

I was a little worried as I wandered around the museum glancing at exhibits that I was not supposed to carry my open beverages but no one stopped me or wrestled me to the ground.

Here you can see me with what I might call a dream weaver, a hand made item. I remember making these things when I was a child in Girl Scouts.
In the museum there were lots of minerals on exhibit. I believe this big rock was a piece of copper (it is green which I associate with copper...after it has rusted a bit).

Right behind me in the glass enclosed cabinet there was lots of gold in a variety of formats.

There were also a variety of gems and other items that are found in the Arizona area. I think my dad would have been happy that I spent a few moments appreciating the museum wandering around aimlessly reading placards (when I was a child it would take him hours to get through just one room in the New York City this day our family kind of busts on him for this trait--which by the way just as a warning if he does suggest a museum to you either bring a super long book or just say no!!!).

At the start line I am ready with a variety of items I might need.

Sunglasses if it got sunny (it did not)

A plastic bag if it was cold (it was until about mile 22!) In fact although the high was predicted to be 70 degree's I would be hard pressed to suggest it was warmer than the low 60's. On a positive note this was still about 30 degree's higher than the Disney Marathon a week prior

A visor if it got sunny (again the rumor was that it was going to be sunny for the entire marathon but realistically I did not see much sun at all which bummed me out!)

With my friends Jennifer and Cheryl from the New Orleans Marathon. We met and ran many miles in the New Orleans Marathon in 2009 and I knew that we were running the Rock and Roll Marathon.

We ended up starting our trip with a complete chance meeting on the airport shuttle as we both arrived about the same time.

Jennifer and Cheryl spotted me as I was running the first 4.8 miles in the ultramarathon and I headed over to get a picture with them. They were funny in that they kept saying I needed to get back to running....I was okay with not running.

Here is my bib from the ultramarathon. This is one of my most treasured bib's because it is signed by several famous runners:

It is signed by
Deena Kastor on the right,
Dean Karnases on the left
Ryan Hall who inscribed it with "Run Fast!" which is really cool particularly since I did end up running this ultra fast, with a new 50 km PR!

In fact my time for the marathon was one of my top 10 fastest marathons to date.


The Phoenix Rock and Roll Marathon started early for me and 150 other runners signed up for the inaugural 50 km race. When I signed up either the details of the 50 km escaped me or else they were not finalized.

The 50 km race was essentially a race of two parts with an intermission. The first 4.8 miles were to be run before the marathon then after a break we were to run the final 26.2 miles with the marathoners. Oddly enough all ultra runners were to go to corral #1 after finishing the 4.8 miles regardless of predicted finish time.

To arrive at the start line by 6:30, we had to catch an early bus. Luckily there was to be a meet and greet as well as coffee and cytomax at the mineral museum prior to the race. This was the same location elite competitors would later use which was kind of cool.

Even better my hotel was less than a quarter mile from the shuttle bus pick up (which I knew from last year). This meant I had an easy walk to get to the pick up point.

Unfortunately the shuttle bus I hopped on for the ride to the start seemed to have a non-local driver who ended up getting a bit lost. Luckily there were several locals on the bus who were able to get us close to the start line while avoiding road closures. For a bit during the ride I was worried I would not make it even having given myself ample travel time by getting on the bus 1.5 hours prior to the 50 km race start.

After finally getting to the starting area, I headed to the mineral museum. There were many runners congregating there. I did a rough head count and speculated that there were close to 100 runners in the building. I was a bit bummed because initially the 50 km was limited to 50 runners. But considering my bib number was 162, I ultimately figured that there were more likely about 200 registered runners.

As I waiting in the warm building I tried to make my dad proud by walking around and looking at the displays. In fact I even got a picture of myself in front of a huge piece of copper. There were other minerals including lots of gold nuggets as well as pretty and colorful rocks.

At some point my two diet mountain dews were processed by my stomach so I needed a ladies room. While waiting in line apparently those of us with drop bags were escorted to bag check. This was the first of several announcements that I completely missed. After my potty break I was pleasantly surprised to see lotions and sunscreen placed out. I asked another runner if it was for us and we decided it was. I then applied some sunscreen in anticipation of some sunny weather during the race. Sadly it was not really sunny much during the race which at least disappointed me.

Upon getting out of the bathroom I realized there were only about 30 individuals left in the building. I asked about the mass exodus and realized I needed to put some pep in my step to check my bag. This became kind of a fiasco because I was not sure what layering system to use and I also was not sure exactly about the logistics of what we would do during the break between mile 4.8 and the start of the marathon. Alas I decided to keep one layer and my two trash bags.

Heading to the start line I heard the pre race briefing. But it was a bit confusing. There was one long lap (.8 miles), then a bunch (6 or 7) shorter laps of .4 miles. We were responsible for keeping track of our laps and somehow the phrase “honor system” was used. I was completely baffled about the whole process and hoped that I could figure things out during the 4.8 miles. A few runners commented that it would be nice to have these directions written out, which I agreed. I was only half awake and just hoping I would not get lost.

I did notice that I was the only runner in my group that had a headlamp. Oddly enough in one of the brochures, it was suggested that we should have a headlamp, but this was in the midst of the information not well placed. Since I had fallen before the Disney Marathon, I wanted to keep my track record for falls before marathons/ultras to a minimum so did carry (and ultimately wear) my headlamp. In fact in the later part of the .8 mile loop and the halfway point of the .4 mile loop, there was a dark area in which I became very popular because of my headlamp.

Pretty soon we were moved in front of the start line for a group picture. Then we were sent back over the start line so the race could start. Pretty soon it was 6:30 and the first portion of the 50 km race began.

I wanted to ensure I ran the mandatory 10 minute miles for the first 4.8 miles. But I did not want to go out to quickly. I had worn my Garmin to keep me on pace and was a bit distressed to see there was only about 5 or 6 runners hanging back maintaining a not so leisurely 10 min/mile pace.

We started chatting and most of the runners were running their first ultra. Initially I was very excited when another runner mentioned he had run a 100, but upon further questioning it was a 100 km race. Several of the runners were using the 50 km race as a gateway to a 50 miler and two of the young ladies in this pack were from the DC area. They talked about the JFK50 miler which I said was a great race and lots of fun (and very different than the Rock and Roll 50 km).

I tried to pay attention to the turns because I did not want this event to become a real ultra as defined by 1) you fall and 2) you get lost (seriously it’s not an ultra unless these two things occur!). Paying attention to the turns I realize we are heading back to the start line. 0.8 miles down, 29.2 to go!

Because I knew I wanted to stay super hydrated, I pulled off to grab a cup of cytomax and drank it down. I am not sure I like cytomax. All the while I worried that I would be puking it back up after my little pukefest on Friday night. But alas I tried to think positive thoughts (and in a bizarre turn of events for me I did not eat anything pre-race, not pre race snowballs, suzie-q’s or even a muffin—it was kind of sad).

It took me nearly half the small lap before I caught up with my pack. I noticed there were only 2 runners behind us which caused me a little worry. I figured that we needed a buffer of about 5-10 runners to be safe from the sweep. So I picked up the pace a bit.

My friends from DC and the 100 km-er stuck with me for a bit particularly when I indicated we were pretty close to last. Also several of us had Garmin’s and different watches were reading different paces but they all were around 9:30 or 10 minute miles. I knew I wanted a bit of a buffer in case I needed more beverage or decided a walk break was critical.

The next lap passed very quickly. 0.6 miles is very short. And because the small loop was shaped like a “P” with the out and back at the start/finish line we were able to see runners who were ahead of us for about 25% of each lap. At this point we also were passed by the leaders. In the top 3, there was a gentleman dressed up like batman. I thought it was cool and hummed/sung the batman theme. A few laps later as they passed us again I confirmed he was on his last lap and suggested he needed to go pick up the batmobile and to pick me up.

During the middle laps we had a discussion about how many small laps we needed. I actually considered calling up my husband or friend Jamie (a math teacher) to see if anyone could figure out how many 0.8 and 0.6 mile laps you needed to get to 4.8 miles the algebraic formula would be: 0.8 + 0.6x where x is the number of laps we needed to complete. Unfortunately I don’t think there is a closed form solution for this equation that yields an integer value or else the lap distances were wild guesses.

Running along I was surprised to hear my name being called out. It was my friends Jennifer and Cheryl whom I had run into on the shuttle bus from the airport. What a great surprise. I ran over and got a picture with them. All the while they were yelling at me to get back into the race. But alas I was having fun and thought I had a small buffer.

Ultimately I think we were supposed to do 6 smaller laps. But I had no idea. And recall this was based on the honor system. At some point my drink breaks and concern about time separated me from my friends. I was all alone and confused about where I was along the course. My second to last lap finished with me noticing the cones along the out and back were being taken down. But my garmin indicated I had only gone 4.4 miles. I still had a lap to go!

I ran through the turn around and headed back onto the course. I was the only person on the course. Now either I finished the proper number of laps and about 15 folks behind me were short or I was an overachiever. I am still unsure.

As I headed out I passed the police cruiser picking up the cones. I picked up the pace and was running a 7:30 mile. I was getting a little winded but I wanted to finish fair and square. The cheerleaders were gone and the volunteers were taking down the fencing. But so far no one asked me to leave the course. I continued sprinting this last lap and passed another volunteer. I asked if there was anyone behind me but he said that no one was on the course except for me.


I turned again and could see the starting line. I was moving quickly. Finally I made it over the start line. A nice volunteer told me I could stop running and should go to the left. This did not exactly register (well except the “you can stop running”). I slowed down and then wandered a bit aimlessly trying to catch my breath. Finally I realized that the volunteer was sending me to the ultra warming tent. I went in but there was not much there. I did grab a cytomax and started drinking.

I was getting hot so decided I needed to go back to gear check to get rid of my long sleeve shirt. It was nice to be able to do this, although realistically I did not get warm enough to take off any more layers (garbage bags!) until mile 19 and 23 for my bottom and top, respectively.

After dropping off my shirt I headed into the porta potty line. There was no porta potty by the ultra finish which bummed me out a bit. So I got to the back of the line and after about 15 minutes of waiting finally arrived at the porta potty. In fact after about 5 minutes, the star spangled banner played, about 2 minutes later, the race started and finally, nearly 10 minutes after the official start I was finally back on the course ready to run the marathon.

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